5th Sunday in Lent March 17, 2024


Jesus Goes to the Pawn Shop

John 19:34

Scripture Readings

Numbers 21:4-9
Hebrews 9:11-15


167, 176, 166, 159

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted

Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, we beseech You graciously to behold this Your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our meditation is based on the passion narrative just read, Jesus’ body hanging from the cross, and buried in the tomb. You will see that the Savior of mankind exchanged His life for yours in order to redeem you from eternal death. Again, the sad state of the body of our Lord:

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. (KJV)

O Lamb of God, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.

I find pawn shops to be uncomfortable places to visit. It’s not often that I frequent a pawn shop, but every now and again, I wander into and about one, thinking I’ll find some steal of a deal.

Not long, though into eyeing up the guns, gaudy jewelry, big electronics, video games, and movies—none of which I’d show my children—I begin to remember why I said last time I was in a pawn shop that I wouldn’t go back. Not only is it stuff I don’t need, it’s stuff I don’t want, especially when you think through where it came from, how it ended up there. For the self-obvious reason that someone pawned it. Someone needed a quick buck, and turned over something loaded with value and meaning, as if it had none. Each item on the shelf, each mark and scratch, had a sad story attached. Where has this gun been used in the past? What failed marriage is that ring from? What kind of debt drove someone to give all this away? What kind of desperation led to all this stuff on the shelves?

Yes, you get a quick buck from a pawn shop deal, but the real desperation is the fleeting chance to get it back. They give you 30 days to redeem it. Then, it’s just a loan really. I’ll pay it back. 30 days? I’ll be back on my feet no problem. But if it really worked that way, there’d be no shop. If it’s out on the shelf for you to see, it means someone’s lost their chance. The grace period’s already come and gone.

No, it’s not long till it becomes clear this really is no Goodwill, no soccer mom co-op. There are plenty of great deals all at someone else’s expense, which explains all the bars on the windows and doors in what for all appearances would be a safe, well-to-do neighborhood of Fargo. Because the sort of things which fill the pawn shop, addiction, gambling, neglect, heaps of lies and poor choices, who knows what someone might turn to in order to get their stuff back.

Maybe you don’t frequent pawn shops, or never gave them nearly the overly obsessive thought I have, but you certainly do know what it is to have made some desperate choices: to have had lies heap up to the point you weren’t sure what was true; to fall for the gamble that the answer was just a few dollars you’ll pay back but ended up losing more than you expected; or perhaps, to stumble across a steal of a deal, instead of thinking better of the opportunity, you were a bit eager to take advantage of the poor choices of others, pawn shop or not.

All of which behavior leaves us with a debt before our God called sin. It’s a debt you owe to your Creator, but the distorted thinking that ‘you’re good for it,’ trying to work it out in all our miserable dealings with one another, the one we’ve actually been trying to come out even with is the devil.

Now, each of you, living and breathing this evening, you’re still within the grace period. And though it’s admittedly been more than thirty days, it’s going to come to a close. When it does, how will your debt stand and whom will you owe?

Pawn shops are scary places, especially when you think them through, and see how indicative they are of the lives we live in sin and the end we cannot escape, to be delivered over to the pawn brokers of hell till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:34)

Maybe that’s why I try not even to think about the place, and don’t, until the other week in Aberdeen, I was taught to think of them in a completely different light. You see, over the past few months, I’ve been privileged to have an instruction class with a woman in Aberdeen from the Philippines. We’ve been working our way through a course in the basics of Lutheran doctrine in both her native language, Tagalog, and mine, English. And as we go along, every so often, I point to a word on her copy of the lesson, and ask her what it means, genuinely curious as to how a particular verse or poetic image of the Bible is conveyed in her language, as I ask her to describe it to me best she can in English.

And the other week, when we got the concept of redemption, Redeemer, I pointed to the word, “tubusin,” “to redeem,” curious how this key concept is rendered in Tagalog. She looked a while at her lesson, staring at the word, until after thinking it through, she looked up and said, “Jesus goes to the pawn shop.” In that moment, I knew she got it, and I had no hesitation commending her answer as simply brilliant.

“Jesus goes to the pawn shop.”

That’s the Gospel, isn’t it? Jesus comes to get back what is His, and to do so, has to enter an unsavory place. For thirty-three years, He browsed firsthand everything mankind traded for Eden. And took in with His eyes, ears, and all His faculties, our shady dealings with one another: theft, adultery, addiction. The supposedly lesser crimes of grudges, white lies, and petty swindling. Until, overwhelmed with everything which fills our shelves, Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

And instead of looking away, turning round and walking out the door, He brokered a deal only He could, for Jesus had been sent to make an offer for the whole lot of us, a bargain the devil simply could not pass up. He knew well the debt, that you have so little time and no way to pay… the back story of how we got here, and the cycle you can’t break… and with much more at stake than a hoop earring, stereo, or Glock—your eternal soul—He walked right in, knowing exactly what He was getting into. He turned Himself over as the greatest of ransoms in order to redeem you, “a lost and condemned creature.”

Who knows what desperate act someone might turn to go after something they’ve pawned? Well, no man could have imagined, made up, the depths to which your Savior sank to purchase you from sin, death, and hell. He was smitten, stricken, and afflicted; abused and neglected. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24) Sinking to our sad places, into your lowest moments, each of His marks and bruises telling the story of His boundless love for you. He made His grave with the wicked… and He was numbered with the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:9,12) Set out on display between two criminals, and in the place of a third, Barabbas, who in his newfound, surprise freedom was no doubt plotting how to get all his stuff back, shake out of a few people what they thought they’d no longer have to owe.

In the end, Jesus’ body treated as junk, poked and prodded as if determining its value, when one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

“What a waste!” one might think. What return could there be on all He had invested, for all who had invested so much of their hearts in Him?

Well, as the junk trade motto goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” For you know hanging there from the cross was the Son of God, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

There were two that day saw His value in particular, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea. Two who saw Jesus’ lifeless form to be loaded with meaning and worth, placing His body with great care beside a wide assortment of pricey items by the world’s standards, fulfilling prophecy again the Jesus be with the rich in His death.

Where, in that ostensibly safe and well-to-do neighborhood of the dead, the chief priests and Pharisees set a guard, like bars on the windows and the doors. For who knows what those disciples of His might be so desperate as to do? All in vain, as Jesus descends into hell to proclaim to the chief broker of sin how your price has been paid in full.

When not long after, Jesus is redeemed Himself, picked back up well before those thirty days—just three—picked back up from the dead, that you might ever find your true value in Him.

Take freely of this deal, dear friends. In Him, there’s no disappointment. No catch. That’s what those words mean: Redemption, Redeemer, Redeem.

“Jesus goes to the pawn shop,” goes to the pawn shop and leaves with you. What a fitting image, then, for our passion narrative tonight, for this Lenten season as a whole. Every time you come to Him in this everlasting Gospel, you might leave with a steal of a deal: the forgiveness of sins, strengthened in faith, and bound for heaven.

So, if you’ve looked in your soul and found a few sad items sitting on those shelves in there, see them instead in Jesus’ death purchased, paid, set free, and find no need to go back to the pawn shop life yourself. No longer deceiving yourself with the gambles of this world, cling to this treasure: Christ crucified. And in Him, the glory of eternal redemption. The good news that your price has been paid. You’ve been purchased and redeemed to be His own. Leaving here tonight with the guarantee that when your window of time draws to a close, He’s coming back for you.

Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

—Pastor Timothy T. Daub

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
Hecla, SD

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